This was supposed to be a proving afternoon for the English midfield, the sunny Rome day when an unfabled partnership would waltz through the Eternal City's ruins to construct their own case to take on the world.
Alas, there was as much chance of Caesar climbing to the top of those senate stairs as Mike Tindall and Jamie Noon hurling themselves to the forefront of England's attacking consciousness. The cynics might conclude they too were stabbed in the back by their own kind - the brutes inside them, no less - although at least England live to fight another day and there will be other battles for Tindall and Noon to state their worth.
But until then the jury will stay out, particularly on Noon, the Falcon who some maintain will always refuse to acknowledge he has wings. In Wales for instance, regardless of last week's overwhelming evidence, they claim you will see more flair around a Teddy Boy's ankle, although over the Bridge they have been countering that with a quip of their own after their midfield Moses cut the Red sea in half. "What have the Welsh defence and sociology students got in common?" they ask. Answer: Neither often sees Noon.
But saying that, nor did the ball yesterday when England remained faithful to their shameless creed of power before panache, the sledgehammer before the stiletto. White-line fever is all very understandable in a ravenous pack laying siege to the try-line, but how Tindall, Noon and the rest of the forgotten back line must have yearned for what was rightfully theirs.
For six full minutes in that morose opening 40, the English front eight bumped, bored and failed really to go anywhere as the threequarters knocked their knees and wondered what their purpose was. For Noon it seemed to be merely to help tidy up in the rucks and it is no exaggeration to say that his boots touched more Italian shirts yesterday than his hands felt ball. Even when Harry Ellis did consent to use Charlie Hodgson, the criminally slow ball meant he could not pass on the compliment to those outside.
But when Hodgson gives it, his centres can indeed use it, as Tindall emphatically proved with his try in the 22nd minute. This was an angle Euclid would have been chuffed with, and even if Sergio Parisse did miss the great grandmother of all tackles, this was still finishing of the highest order. Remember the No 12 is a crash-ball specialist only when an opponent is brave enough to be crashed into. Otherwise, Tindall is a fresh-air specialist.
Not that England made any more strenuous efforts to utilise him. Blame the stuttering delivery, blame the gallant Italian defence, but also blame the absence of much ambition as well. Not until Matt Dawson's belated entry picked up the pace of both ball and movement could Hodgson highlight his undoubted creativity. But what of his supposed co-stars? Supporting roles have rarely had so few lines.
That is, until the play was almost over. Tindall's short pass inside to release Ben Cohen was a thing of beauty made all the more attractive by Mark Cueto going over in the corner. The floodgates were not exactly swung open but at least they were nudged apart slightly and England underlined their ability to score from depth, with speed.
That much was already known but what remains a doubt is the compatibility of Tindall and Noon to form a midfield pairing with enough variety to take to the World Cup. Who knows, James Simpson-Daniel's try-scoring entrance for Tindall right at the death might not be as irrelevant as it first seemed.
MAN FOR MAN MARKING IN ROME
Star performer: Mirco Bergamasco 9
Selected at centre, but liable to pop up anywhere on the pitch. Tackled fiercely, posed a threat whenever in possession and ran in his try with brio.
Christian Stoica 7
Normally an attack-minded centre, but presented a staunch backbone in the spine of the Italian defence. Was kept busy marshalling the back line.
Pablo Canovosio 6
No chances to make a break. Showed an astute rugby brain with the timing of his tackles, his kicks to touch and his shepherding of opposing runners.
Gonzalo Canale 7
Has the class and strength to develop into a centre of international quality. Had time on the ball and made the break that created the italian try.
Ludovico Nitoglia 6
Another Italian back confined largely to defensive duties. Considering he was up against Cueto most of the time, he can be proud of his efforts.
Ramiro Pez 7
Given a gilt-edged chance to seize an early initiative, his kick bounced off a post. Thereafter, he played with composure and slotted a fine drop goal.
Paul Griffen 6
A rugged little player who seems as ubiquitous as his luxurious sideburns. Made a continual nuisance of himself, quite often to his own team-mates.
Salvatore Perugini 6
Charged with the all-important task of holding firm against the terrier-like Stevens. Discharged this duty in the set-pieces, but otherwise anonymous.
Fabio Ongaro 5
Struggled to hit the mark with his line-out throwing, though England's disruptive forwards were mainly to blame. Went down with his boots on.
Carlos Nieto 8
Italy's scrummaging pivot because he found a way to subdue Sheridan and keep him off-balance. His Herculean efforts earned him an early bath .
Santiago Dellape 6
Was up against it in the line-outs where he had little answer to Borthwick and Grewcock. Made significant contributions in rough-house phases.
Marco Bortolami 6
If Italy really were going to spring a surprise, they needed their captain and second-row pillar to be on the form of his life. He didn't quite deliver.
Joshua Sole 6
There was something of the old-fashioned blind-side stopper about this No 6, and most of his instincts were destructive. Italy needed more soul.
Mauro Bergamasco 7
A barn-storming displaay from one of the outstanding back-row forwards of the European game. Was everywhere in his quest for the impossible.
Sergio Parisse 6
Made an impressive start to the game by driving back every scrap of ball that came his way, but gradually missed tackles crept in to his play.
Carlo Festuccia 5: Made little difference to Ongaro.
Andrea Lo Cicero 5: Came on late to little avail.
Martin Castrogiovanni 6: Replaced the tiring Nieto.
Carlo Del Fava 6: Had a couple of decent line-outs.
Aaron Persico 6: Replaced Sole and was kept busy.
Simon Picone 6: Was used in unfamiliar wing role.
Rima Wakarua: Not used.
Star performer: Charlie Hodgson 9
An assured, patient performance. Kept the ball alive when kicking from hand and swooped for his try with a predator's deadly thrust.
Tom Voyce 7
Given few chances to indulge in his first love, running with the ball. Brave under a high ball, safe when handling and immaculate in tidying up.
Mark Cueto 7
Suffered more than most from Italy's attentive defence. Almost scored from a hanging Hodgson cross-kick before galloping home in the 66th minute.
Jamie Noon 6
Five yards was about as far as he was allowed to run with the ball all day. It was to his credit that he kept plugging away and maintained his tackle count.
Mike Tindall 7
His sort of game - endless tackling, blocking and crashing into opposition ranks in the hope of a gap eventually opening up, as it did in the first half.
Ben Cohen 6
Tried to vary the angles of running by coming into the line whenever he could, but somehow he telegraphs his intentions too easily to the enemy.
Harry Ellis 5
It was no coincidence that England took charge soon after his departure. He was too slow to the breakdown and was turned over far too often.
Andrew Sheridan 6
The young man mountain's first backward step in an England shirt. He did not make his expected impact and eventually gave way to White.
Steve Thompson 7
It could be that the emergence of Borthwick has enabled him to turn the corner as a line-out thrower. Was his usual dynamic self in the loose.
Matt Stevens 8
Demonstrated for a second Saturday the value of mobile, ball-playing props in broken play. The fact that he packs down like a stevedore is a real bonus.
Steve Borthwick 8
Seemingly able to pluck out the ball wherever he wanted in the line-out. Plays a key role in the mauls by adding some much needed glue.
Danny Grewcock 8
Against a physical and committed set of Italian forwards, England's engine room needed to be on its mettle. The grizzly Bath warrior did not disappoint.
Joe Worsley 7
Scrapped away on the floor and held his own against an inspired Italian back row. Quick to spot the gap to make the break that led to Hodgson's try.
Lewis Moody 7
Timed his runs as well as ever at the restarts and policed the back of the line-out with more care than against Wales. Tackled hard when necessary.
Martin Corry 7
Unlucky to miss out on a try when TV evidence was inconclusive. Likewise, it is not easy to assess a player whose work, though vital, is largely unseen.
Lee Mears 5: On to stretch his legs near the end.
Julian White 6: Cashed in on a tiring Italian pack.
Simon Shaw 6: Showed deft touches for a big man.
Lawrence Dallaglio 5: A consolidating, not explosive role.
Matt Dawson 7: Provided far quicker ball than Ellis.
James Simpson-Daniel 5: Soft try, but he deserves some luck.
Andy Goode: Not used.
Paul TrowReuse content